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6 Ways Influencer Marketing Can Go Wrong, With Examples!

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Hold it right there, brands. Before you sign up a few YouTube and Instagram stars to help sell your latest products, have you considered all the things that can go wrong? Because it’s a gotcha world, and everyone is gunning for you. For proof, look to this list of six influencer marketing mistakes.

Today, influencers need to be saints to pass the internet’s hyper-vetting. They get more scrutiny than politicians, and that means you’ll need to do some vetting of your own. These six lessons were learned the hard way.

Don’t Support Edgy Humor: This is a rough one, because the people you’re trying to appeal to probably love edgy humor. But it makes your ad campaign an easy target. Just ask Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, YouTube’s most followed star. After a stunt where he tested the limits of what people on Fiverr would do for money—which involving anti-Semitic comments—he lost deals with YouTube and Maker Studios. While PewDiePie’s fans understood he wasn’t trying to promote hatred, that didn’t matter to studios and brands.

Don’t Use Public Money: Government offices need to steer clear of influencers because they invite a level of scrutiny no official wants. In August 2018, the government of Australia banned influencers from all ad campaigns. After running a campaign encouraging girls to be more active, officials discovered some of the influencers hired had previously pitched alcohol and diet products. Worse, gamers hired to promote Air Force recruiting had made edgy jokes online. No politician wants to take the heat for that.

Do Make Sure the Influencer Uses the Product: The relationship between the brand and the influencer should be a tight one, with influencers pitching products they truly support. But sometimes it’s just a cash grab, and when that happens, it shows. In May 2016, TV celebrity Scott Disick (or his people) thought so little of the diet shake he was pitching that he sent out an Instagram post with the caption, “Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below” followed by brand copy. It looked horribly inauthentic and didn’t put across the kind of personal support the brand wanted.

Don’t Be Too Perfect: Perfection makes people feel bad. In September 2018, Scarlett Dixon (known as Scarlett London online) posted a marketing shot for Listerine that showed her waking up to a crazy perfect bedroom scene, complete with balloons, comfy pajamas, and strawberries. The image showed her greeting the morning with a smile (and a bottle of Listerine), and some people couldn’t handle it, saying it made them feel inadequate. Dixon even got death threats. When hiring people who look great on camera, be sure they don’t look too great.

Don’t Forget About Disclosures: Influencer marketing is advertising, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission gets testy when sponsored posts aren’t marked as ads. Just ask the execs at Lord & Taylor, who had to settle charges with the FTC after buying 50 Instagram posts. In March 2015, Lord & Taylor used online influencers to help it market a line of clothing for young women. But while sponsored posts were tagged with the campaign hashtag, they weren’t tagged as ads. Big oops. Influencers should know about disclosure by now, but be sure to insist on it.

Don’t Believe Their Follower Counts: Finally, no matter what platform you’re using, know that some influencers are trying to put one over on the marketers. There’s big money in influencer marketing, and that tempts people to buy fake followers. Examine their audience closely before signing a deal. As a CreatorIQ report on follower fraud suggested, looking for sudden ups and downs in their audience numbers can be a tip-off. They gain a lot of followers after making purchases, but lose many during bot purges. Also, look for strong followings in countries known for click farms, like Brazil, or see if they have suspiciously poor audience engagement rates. A little due diligence will keep you from tossing away your marketing budget.

[This article appears in the November/December 2018 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Influencer Marketing: Doing It Wrong."]

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